Maxïmo Park v Architects marks the return of the indie chart battle. But why now?

As Mogwai, Alice Cooper and Kings of Leon also duke it out, our columnist ponders why guitar bands are at the top of the pops once more

The midweek chart, for guitar bands, has always been a mirage in the desert – the first two matching numbers of a lottery ticket; a one-nil lead for England after 20 minutes of any quarter-final. It is the hill on which so many dreams die. “We’re Number Six in the midweeks!” the Monday tweets exclaim, and then you don’t hear from them for the rest of the week as they plummet swiftly to an ignoble death in the mid-70s. For so many alternative acts, it’s like waving to your mum before back-flipping off Beachy Head.

Until recent weeks, that is. A fortnight ago, Mogwai clung on to their Number One midweek placing for dear life, even with chart rival Ghetts – formerly an independent artist but now with the heft of Warner Music behind him – throwing all the Ed Sheeran, Stormzy, Skepta and Emeli Sande features he could muster at them. Last week Maxïmo Park topped the midweeks ahead of Alice Cooper, only to slip to Number Two by 550 sales following a late surge by (checks for bunch of sudden-drop Taylor Swift demos she strummed on the toilet or somethingnope) Brighton metalcore stalwarts and fellow ‘00s survivors Architects. It was as if, with Reading & Leeds the only thing to do all year, the entire country decided it had better get used to having its face melted.

Even though Kings Of Leon are a shoo-in for this week for eighth album ‘When You See Yourself’, it’s probably too early to call it a guitar music comeback. But for a few weeks it’s felt as though a system designed to hold alternative acts back can be beaten. Traditionally (as we used to see in the singles chart before there was nothing to buy) underground artists see early-week surges of sales from their dedicated and engaged fanbases that push them to their (objectively rightful) high place on the chart in the first few days. Then the algorithm, which assumes everyone would much rather listen to Cardi B because humans are clearly all identical content consumption nodes, starts gradually racking up the passive plays of high-priority major acts until all those noisy, playlist-unfriendly acts get wiped from the cultural ledger to make way for more trap.

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So what changed? The answer is quite possibly: the pandemic. Not because an unconscious craving for poetic Geordie art-rock is a little-studied side-effect of long COVID, but because we’ve perhaps developed a lot more sympathy for the plight of others over the past year. When guitar bands cry out for support in 2021, we know they’re being stiffed by venue closures and Brexit restrictions, that they’re getting paid in claps by streaming services and that VICE is on a mission to make the world embarrassed about liking them. There’s less shame in the appeal, and we naturally want to reach out to help acts who, back in the day, might have helped us through a few tough times of our own.

It’s also a form of homegrown justice that sits easily with the Gen-Z mentality. Do Mogwai deserve their first Number One album after 25 years of flattening modest theatre venues in the name of bowel-evacuating post-rock? Damn right they do. Do Maxïmo Park and Architects deserve their Blur vs Oasis moment after years of fighting for respect and recognition? Hell yeah!

While we sit and watch dozens of injustices beyond our control play out – nurses insulted with a one per cent pay rise, millions of workers thrown to the wolves by Rishi Sunak, thousands losing loved ones thanks to Boris Johnson’s criminal incompetence – we’re increasingly keen to help where we have the power to. Clapping on our doorsteps. Retweeting Marcus Rashford. Spending the money we’ve saved on trousers this year on records designed to give us nosebleeds.

Whatever the reason, it’s clearly a time for alternative acts to get the chart-topping recognition they’ve long deserved. There couldn’t be a better moment for that third Neutral Milk Hotel record, a Yeah Yeah Yeahs revival or comebacks from Animals That Swim, Family Of The Year, Johnny Boy or Stellastarr*. Might I take this opportunity to direct the attention of anyone further interested in supporting great acts who never got their full and proper chart dues to the 2021 returns of Grouplove, Ladyhawke, Tindersticks, Death From Above 1979, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and The Hold Steady? Then all we’d need to do is agree to adopt the midweek chart as the official one and rock justice might finally be served.

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